Hurricane Michael did a number on the trees at our Gadsden County farm.
When they toppled to the ground, they did not come alone. Intertwined with the broken limbs and the downed trunks were vicious vines that grow well in an area that averages about 70 inches of rain a year.
Wisteria. Poison ivy. Grape. Cat’s claw creeper. Smilax. It’s a long list.
The task ahead is to clean up the debris left by the 150 mph winds. I’ve spent days doing that.
Chainsaw work is challenging enough, but it’s even more difficult with vines wrapped around you legs that are determined to trip you. Then there are the ones with thorns the size of Lucifer’s horns that scratch and leave you bleeding.
Tangled up in vines.
It’s a lot like Jacksonville politics where certain candidates rely on a nasty tangle of innuendoes, distorted claims and outright falsehoods to try to bring down their opponents.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A new day is coming.
Well, well, look who I ran into on New Year’s Day.
Sitting by a big pot of boiling peanuts was none other than Jimmy Ray Bob, and it was abundantly clear that the guru of all things political had come out of retirement.
My first question was the same one many people are asking at the beginning of 2019: Will Lenny Curry face a serious challenger in the spring elections?
“Yes,” Jimmy Ray said without hesitating.
But what about the political commentators who are saying it’s too late to mount a campaign against Curry and his brimming-with-money political machine?
“That’s a myth,” Jimmy Ray said,”especially when a candidate has been doing the necessary ground work for months. I can tell you that’s been happening.
“Think about it,” Jimmy Ray continued. “A three-month campaign doesn’t take as much money as one that drags on for a year. There will be a challenger who has sufficient funding.
“Besides it would have been silly to launch a local campaign when state and federal races were sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. People needed a break from all the nastiness, which will be the hallmark of a Curry campaign once a challenger gets in.”
OK. Who is it going to be?
Jimmy Ray took a big swallow of his RC Cola and smiled.
“Don’t be surprised if you don’t find out until the last day of qualifying on Jan.11,” Jimmy Ray said.”But I can tell you this. I’ve never seen wife Sissy Lu so fired up about city elections. Hold on. It’s going to be a heckuva ride.”
I’m not sure Mayor Lenny Curry can help himself.
It wasn’t that long ago in another life, when Curry was the leader of the Florida Republican Party, that he wrote an opinion piece that was published in The Florida Times-Union in which he called for an end to the nastiness that permeated political debate.
Within a few days, he was back hurling verbal bombs at Democrats.
That streak of meanness reemerged Thursday evening during former Mayor Jake Godbold’s annual holiday quail dinner, an event that attracts hundreds of politically connected people spanning decades of Jacksonville’s history.
In his pre-dinner remarks, Godbold set a high tone, describing how everyone there — Christians, Jews, blacks, whites — were connected, and he gave thanks for such enduring friendships.
Given a chance to speak, Curry used part of his remarks to call out his critics, especially those in the media. So much for the holiday spirit.
Curry has a tendency to mimic locker-room style exhortations from a football coach.
You half expect to hear slogans such as “look sharp, be sharp” or “second place is for the first loser.”
At Thursday’s gathering, he talked excitedly about his philosophy of crashing “through walls” to fulfill his agenda.
Not everyone agrees with that agenda. That’s why we have elections.
In a term Curry will understand, in a couple of weeks “game on.”
With a master of deflection in the White House, Americans aren’t paying enough attention to the damage being done to the country.
We can’t continue to be blinded by tweets while the future is being destroyed in the name of profits.
What’s going to get the most attention: Donald Trump inventing the word “smocking” or what his administration did at the United Nations conference in Poland this week.
Trump’s international energy and climate adviser, Wells Griffith, led a panel discussion there that heaped praise on fossil fuels.
The New York Times quoted Griffith as saying, “The United States has an abundance of natural resources and is not going to keep them in the ground. We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or entergy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.”
Take a moment and let that twisted logic sink in.
“Environmental sustainability” is the sustainability of life on this planet. Trump and his acolytes are willing to condemn the future for dollars today.
That’s also behind his gutting of wetland protections and the weakening of clean air and clean water standards.
In Florida, we are all too familiar with this stupidity.
For eight years, Gov. Rick Scott helped to pad the pockets of developers and polluters, and we’ve been left with mammoth outbreaks of red tide, poisonous algae blooms, a stressed aquifer and declining springs.
And like Trump, Scott refuses to acknowledge climate change and the very real impacts that it is having not just in the future but today.
Now Scott goes to Washington as a senator who will more than likely support Trump’s unholy crusade to make his friends and himself richer.
I don’t know how many letters I’ve seen from readers that are published in the Times-Union that end with “Wake up, America!”
Well: Wake up, America and Florida and Jacksonville!
It’s the responsibility of those of us living today to ensure a livable planet for future generations.
We are failing.
I was going to write this last week after the latest crime figures from the state told us what we already knew — murders and violent crimes in Jacksonville are off the chart.
But I was angry, and I thought it best not to write while in that state.
Then Monday’s Florida Times-Union reported that two more murders had occurred Sunday afternoon — a day that has routinely become anything but a day of peace in Jacksonville.
So here it is:
Mayor Lenny Curry doesn’t deserve a free ride to re-election.
The reason is obvious: He has failed to fulfill his most important campaign promise — to make Jacksonville a safe city.
He blamed former Mayor Alvin Brown for the city’s unacceptable murder rate and rode that issue to victory in 2015.
He has not stemmed the tide, and he owes Brown and the city an apology.
Maybe if Curry had spent less time attending Jaguar practices.
Maybe if Curry hadn’t been so intent on stacking every public position in Jacksonville with “yes” people.
Maybe if Curry hadn’t been so intolerant of dissent.
Maybe if Curry had quit acting like the party boss he was.
Then maybe, just maybe, the current approach to combating violent crime now making the rounds at City Hall, the JAX Chamber and JSO wouldn’t simply be a rehash of what we did before.
That was called the Jacksonville Journey, and it was working until we forgot about it.
So now we are going to spend more time studying what we already spent months studying.
And Curry as well as City Council members seeking re-election and their backers at the Chamber will have a message for the spring campaigns — See, we are doing something.
Don’t buy it.
A strong contender against Curry needs to emerge so the debate about violence in Jacksonville will move beyond window dressing to real action. We know what to do. The Journey told us.
In the meantime, the Curry political machine is working to elect new City Council members who will join the current council chorus of “whatever you want, mayor.”
Jacksonville doesn’t need more of the same. We need a new direction.
The Jacksonville City Council is poised to to shoot down legislation that would make it easier for the public to understand the working of city government.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who has morphed into a lapdog for Mayor Lenny Curry, led the assault on the bill during a Rules Committee meeting last week.
He was joined by Council President Aaron Bowman, who also is in the hip pocket of Curry as well as the JAX Chamber, and council members who should know better, like Greg Anderson.
The Rules Committee defeated the bill 8-0, and the full council is scheduled to take it up Tuesday night.
The legislation was filed by Councilwoman Anna Lopez Broche and grew out of the work done by a task for on trasparency that she appointed while she was council president.
I was one of the volunteers who served on that task force, and we saw first hand how difficult it is for members of the public to have access to such things as emails to council members that are public record, the interactions between council members and highly paid lobbyists and to follow the money game played at City Hall between big-time donors and elected officials.
The Curry administration has been notoriously slow at providing public records, which has reinforced the need for more transparency at City Hall.
But members of the Rules Committee babbled on about “scaring” off contractors who might do business with the city, “gotcha” legislation and, as Bowman put it, impugning the “ethics” of city officials.
No, this needed legislation would simply make city government more accessible to the public it serves.
And it should be pointed out that Bowman, who was chosen as the incoming council president as the task force met, couldn’t find time to meet with the task force.
Several invitations extended to him were ignored.
Yet even with his busy schedule as council president, he found time to go to the Rules Committee, which he is not a regular member of, to rail against the legislation.
Makes one wonder, doesn’t it.
My former colleagues in the Times-Union editorial department have written yet another glowing paean about Mayor Lenny Curry.
They continue to pull the shade down over their eyes and ignore the light.
For starters, the editorial board’s repeated drumbeat that Curry solved the city’s public employee pension problem is wrong.
What Curry did was secure passage of the largest tax hike in the city’s history, one that will conveniently be paid for by future generations, not those of us who actually allowed the debt to accumulate.
Can you imagine the squawking that would have come from the editorial board if former Mayor Alvin Brown had proposed such a tax hike and just kicked the can down the road for today’s children to pay when they are adults?
The editorial board, in its latest Sunday installment of let us praise Curry, reflects on how much has been accomplished during his three years in office.
The city’s murder rate is still out of control. When Curry ran for office, he blamed Brown for that unacceptable statistic. Now the Curry line goes that it’s the fault of a “tiny” percentage of gang bangers who are doing the killing.
The Jacksonville Landing still stands as an embarrassment to the city’s Downtown.
The Shipyards property remains undeveloped.
There are still no concrete plans for the old City Hall and County Courthouse sites.
The city’s poorer neighborhoods remain underserved.
No, not all is hunky-dory in Jacksonville during Curry’s reign.
The editorial board also heaps praise on City Council President Aaron Bowman for being joined at the hip with Curry.
I don’t see that as a good thing. I see it as dangerous and a continuation of putting people who owe fealty to Curry in every position of power.
I can only surmise that the TU editorial board is trying to establish an argument that Curry should sail to re-election next spring without a serious challenge.
That’s not going to happen. There will be a serious challenger. Only then will the difficult issues facing Jacksonville be the subject of thorough debate and not glossed over with fluff.